Lot of Sodom (and Gomorrah)
Genesis 19. The two angels arrives in Sodom, where Lot welcomes them into his house. Tellingly, his hospitality is not as effusive as Abraham’s. He clearly is the black sheep of the family. All the men of the city surround his house and demand that the strangers be handed over: “Bring them out to us that we may know them”. They intend to “know” the visitors in the sense of raping them. As an illustration of the sinfulness of Sodom it certainly succeeds. Although Lot’s wish to protect the strangers is in itself laudable, the way he goes about it is not. He offers the mob his virgin daughters – “do to them as you please” – instead.
It is popularly accepted, in certain circles of course, that the sin of the two cities was homosexuality. According to the Notes the fact that Lot regards his daughters as acceptable substitutes indicate that the wickedness of Sodom is not homosexuality as such, but “sexual violence (gang rape)”. I find the notion of a city all of whose male inhabitants practice gang rape somewhat hard to wrap my mind around, I must say. Would they rape strangers only? Surely the city would soon not receive any visitors – in which case the rapists would have to turn inwards, towards their own community. At any rate, if the idea is simply to paint Sodom as irredeemably wicked the chapter certainly succeeds. Of course this makes the extreme measures God takes more acceptable.
Lot’s efforts only serve to turn the wrath of the Sodomites onto himself. He is identified as an alien that came to live in their midst, and hence a target as well. The angels strike the mob blind, and gives Lot a chance to collect his people, including his prospective sons-in-law, who refuse to leave. (Wouldn’t they have been with the mob anyway?) Lot hesitates, but the angels take him and his wife and daughters with them, out of the city. Here Lot convinces the angels to spare a small city called Zoar (“little city”), since he wishes to flee there.
They are sternly admonished to neither look back or stop anywhere on the way to Zoar. When Lot’s wife looks back she is turned into a pillar of salt in punishment. The cities are destroyed: “The Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven”. There was no just inhabitant, and therefore no mercy from God. (Although we only read how wicked the men of Sodom were. I guess the idea is that although we only see one aspect of the wickedness of the cities they are wicked in general.)
Afraid to live in Zoar after all Lot and his daughters move into a cave in the mountains nearby. When Lot falls into a drunken sleep his eldest daughter has sex with him to make sure that his offspring are preserved, and the youngest follows suit the next evening. (Compare the story of the drunken Noah and his son Ham, who also sins against him.) The eldest daughter gives birth to Moab, from whom spring the Moabites. The son of the youngest, Ben-ammi, is to become the father of the Ammonites. According to the Notes “these are ethnographic stories that cast aspersions on Israel’s cultural rivals while acknowledging a kinship between them”.
- If all the men of the city are gang rapists, why would Lot and his family want to live there? And be reluctant to leave?
- With regards to Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt the Notes say that she is punished by becoming part of the landscape. Also, this story “accounts for a particularly strange geological formation, which in turns serves as a memorial for Lot’s wife and a visual sign of the story”.
- The actions of Lot’s daughters are somewhat mitigated when, as the Notes say, one realises that they think that no-one other than the three of them survived.
- The Notes refer to Lot as “a buffoon”. It’s hard to disagree.
- We aren’t given any details about Gomorrah’s sins, but I guess the assumption is that they shared the kind and degree of wickedness of Sodom.
Image: Lot and his family flee from Sodom, by Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528)